Environmental Crime Victim Assistance
The Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) of the U.S. Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that victims of federal crime are treated with dignity, fairness, and respect throughout their interaction with the federal criminal justice system, and that they receive the rights, and services to which they are entitled under federal law. ENRD works with the United States Attorneys’ Offices to address the needs of crime victims during the prosecution stage of the federal court process.
What is an Environmental Crime?
An environmental crime can be a negligent, a knowing, or a willful violation of a federal law that protects human health and the environment, such as the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act. However, not all negligent, knowing, or willful behavior is an environmental crime. For more information about ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and the pollution cases that it prosecutes, see Prosecution of Federal Pollution Crimes.
Environmental crimes can include, among other things, illegal dumping of hazardous wastes, or dumping pollutants into a water source.
Who is an Environmental Crime Victim?
A federal crime victim is a person who has been directly and proximately harmed by the commission of a federal crime. Harm to a victim can be physical (health impacts or property damage), emotional (depression), or financial (medical or repair bills). A victim can be the person directly impacted or an immediate family member. Businesses, corporations, and non-profit organizations can be victims.
Physical harm can be in the form of negative health effects resulting from exposure to a pollutant or chemical, or in the form of damage to property from contamination. The health impacts may be immediate and plain to see or may be less obvious because they are hidden or because they may take time to develop. For more information about human health and exposure, go to the EPA's Report on the Environment.
Emotional harm may take many forms, ranging from temporary impairment of the ability of victims to cope and function, to acute stress reactions and post-traumatic stress disorder. More information about coping with crime victimization can be found on the FBI's Coping with Crime Victimization website.
Financial harm can include medical costs, mental health counseling costs, loss of income, funeral expenses, repairs for property damage, or loss of access to personal property.
Some examples of environmental crimes that impacted victims include:
In 1996, 20-year-old Scott Dominguez was ordered to clean a 25,000 gallon storage tank while employed at Evergreen Resources, an industrial chemical reprocessing plant in Soda Springs, Idaho. Allan Elias, the owner and operator of the plant, ignored requests by workers for safety equipment. Dominguez was unaware that the tank contained cyanide and phosphoric acid, so he hosed the tank down with water as instructed, which produced hydrogen cyanide gas. Because he lacked safety equipment, Dominguez suffered from cyanide poisoning from breathing in the hydrogen cyanide gas and became permanently brain damaged.
Elias was convicted of knowingly endangering employees in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), two counts of illegally disposing of hazardous cyanide sludge, and one count of making a false statement to federal officials by falsifying and backdating a safety plan. Elias was sentenced to serve 17 years in prison, the longest sentence ever imposed for an environmental crime. The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, IRS, OSHA, FBI, Idaho State Police, and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The case was prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the ENRD and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho. The DOJ press release is available at United States v. Elias, No. 4:98-cr-70 (D. Idaho).
To hear more about this case and the impact on victims, see the Scott Dominguez video presentation.
In 2010, the Toone family hired Bugman Lawn and Pest, a local pest control company in Layton, Utah, to investigate and treat a rodent problem at their house. Technician Coleman Nocks applied Fumitoxin, a restricted-use pesticide, at the Toone’s home. Nocks failed to abide by the law by applying an excessive dose of the pesticide too close to the family home. The poison seeped into the house, and caused the deaths of 4-year-old Rebecca Toone and 15-month-old Rachel Toone.
Nocks pleaded guilty to one count of using a registered pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling and was sentenced to 3 years’ probation. Bugman’s owner, Ray Wilson, Sr., pleaded guilty to the same offense and also was sentenced to 3 years’ probation and ordered to pay a fine of $3,000. The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Layton police department, and the Layton City Attorney’s Office. The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah. The DOJ press release is available at United States v. Nocks, et al., No. 1:11-cr-17 (D. Utah).
To hear more about this case and the impact on victims, see the Rebecca and Rachel Toone video presentation.
Brent and Arlene McGregor lived in Provo, Utah. For years, their community was impacted by a strong and unpleasant chemical smell emanating from Pacific States Case Iron Pipe Co. (PSCIP). PSCIP’s parent company, McWane, Inc., was one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cast iron pipes. In one of five prosecutions involving McWane, the EPA investigated PSCIP for illegally emitting excess amounts of hazardous air pollutants and creating false documents to imply it was complying with the Clean Air Act (CAA).
In 2006 as part of the PSCIP case, McWane pleaded guilty to two counts of falsifying emissions test documents, was sentenced to a 3-year probationary term, and was ordered to pay a $3 million fine – the largest criminal environmental fine in Utah. The Vice President and General Manager of PSCIP, Charles Matlock, pleaded guilty to rendering an inaccurate testing method in violation of the CAA and was sentenced to serve 12 months and 1 day in prison, as well as ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. As a result of all five prosecutions, McWane was ordered to pay a total of $23 million in fines and 7 of its managers were sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for environmental and worker safety crimes.
The PSCIP case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division. The case was prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the ENRD and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah. The DOJ press release is available at United States v. McWane, Inc., et al., No. 2:05-cr-811 (D. Utah).
To hear more about this case and the impact on victims, see the Brent and Arlene McGregor video presentation.
Public Events for Additional Information
On April 20, 2021, EPA and ENRD hosted a listening session formally announcing the creation of the Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Program (Program) during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is an annual observance to raise awareness of victims’ issues, acknowledge the work to serve victims, and remember victims and survivors. The purpose of the EPA and ENRD listening session was to provide an overview of the Program, an example of an environmental crime with victims, and answer questions from stakeholders. The event featured keynote remarks from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, and Acting Associate Attorney General Matthew Colangelo.
To learn more about the Program and environmental crimes, see the listening session video.
EPA & ENRD Listening Session: Support Environmental Crime Victims. Build Trust Together with Victims’ Rights Professionals. Engage Communities with Environmental Justice Concerns.